Getting some city workers to lose their bad attitudes, taxing drug-dealer money or providing accident insurance for pets must have seemed like good ideas in the Baltimore City Council
meetings. But once on paper, the legislation somehow lost its bite.
So in they went into a big steel cabinet packed with 300 pieces of legislation unable to pass muster. These bills -- strange, laughable and grandiose, but drafted with the best of intentions -- never really had a prayer of becoming law and have languished in the steel cabinet for years.
Come Dec. 1 when the old City Council ends its four-year term, the bills will go into the paper shredder. But for now they are reminders of what was tried and what has failed -- some say thankfully.
"They were not all goofball ideas," said 2nd District Councilman Carl Stokes. "They may have been weird to 99 percent of the population, but our constituents who asked us to do this were sincere."
One piece of Mr. Stokes' legislation scheduled for the shredder was introduced September 1992. The bill called for anyone taking a taxi into the city from another county to stop at the city line, get out of the taxi and hail a city taxi to complete the trip. Failure to do so would be illegal. No punishment was specified.
"I have no idea about that one. I don't even remember doing it. Who knows where that came from," Mr. Stokes laughed.
To become law, bills have to go through a variety of public hearings, committee approvals and council votes.
Often, these bills are not the ideas of the council members. People in their districts will implore them to introduce a particular bill -- no matter how far-flung the idea.
Council members are divided about how to deal with constituent requests that have no chance of becoming legislation.
"In most cases I just tell them point-blank, 'We can't make a law out of this,' " said 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon.
Ms. Dixon said she gets off-the-wall requests often enough that she amasses them in a folder. For a year, she has had one man ask her to introduce legislation to jail pet owners who allow dogs to bark in their yards.
For 1st District Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., all requests go through the council mill. During his first four years in office, Mr. D'Adamo said that he weeded out the fringe requests, telling people that they would never go anywhere.
But now, "it's a good idea to let the council decide because, if you don't, you would be making enemies," Mr. D'Adamo said. People in the community will "think you are putting them down."
He didn't judge the Orangeville woman who asked him to push through legislation that would make the city provide health and accident insurance for household pets. That request came during a community meeting on health insurance intended for people.
Though the bill was signed by four other council members in November 1994, it still sits in the Policy and Planning Committee waiting for a public hearing.
Often these bills find themselves stymied in council committees, never to be heard from again. The heads of those committees can simply refuse to act on the proposed legislation. Other reasons include unfavorable reports from city agencies such as the police department or law department.
Such was the fate of a bill to charge the parents of troublesome children $50 each time they were picked up by the police more than twice in an 18-month period. The law department wrote that taken to court the city could not win and the police department claimed the action was unenforceable.
But not all of the withering legislation comes from the community. Second District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge was treated rudely while trying to get information from a city employee. He immediately drafted legislation last April calling for all city departments to set up programs to monitor employee discourtesy. Only one council member supported the bill.
But even if a bill has the overwhelming support of the council, it still is not guaranteed success. The bill to tax drug-dealer money had failure written on it from the beginning.
Council President Mary Pat Clarke introduced a bill in 1993 to tax drug-deal profits at the time of sale on any city street corner.
The bill was popular with the council, and 13 of the 18 members signed off on the legislation.
Mr. Ambridge, who supported the bill, said the goal was for the city to get some of the money during forfeiture drug cases in which the federal government most always retains the wealth.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke used the bill as a weapon against Mrs. Clarke in her bid to unseat him as mayor in last month's Democratic primary. Mr. Schmoke portrayed the bill as a fringe piece of legislation that the city could expect from Mrs. Clarke if elected.
Some council members "introduce bills because they never do anything," Ms. Dixon said. They do it "just to hype their track records so in an election year they can say they did something."